“Royal Father’s health is getting worse,” Qi Yun stated without preamble. “You should get ready for his passing.”
Nan Xun was surprised that the emperor’s condition was going downhill rather than making a recovery, while Jun Huang had seen this coming. She was plagued with poison herself. She knew how potent Eastern Wu’s poison was. Although the emperor had been saved from a quick death, his malady had not been cured, but only suppressed. The effort of staying alive was taking a toll on him.
Jun Huang thought for a moment. She worried that Prince Duan and Qi Chen, who were their biggest threats at the time being, might make a move soon.
The emperor knew that his days were numbered, and yet he refused to make Qi Yun the crown prince. There must be something they were missing here.
“Although I’m not sure what the emperor is going to do, he clearly puts a lot of hope in you,” she calmly said. “Don’t do anything reckless. We have to be patient. We’ll have the emperor willingly make you the crown prince, instead of forcing his hand like Qi Chen did.”
This was a critical time. She had to make sure that he wouldn’t get impatient.
Qi Yun nodded after a long pause. “Don’t worry. I won’t be reckless.”
His promise made her feel a little better, but she was still anxious. After he’d left, Nan Xun went up to her and took her hand. “What are you thinking?”
She glanced at him and shook her head. “Nothing. I just have some speculations.” She went back to the desk and sat down, reading the accounting book carefully.
Neither of them foresaw what happened next.
Moon Festival came. An extravagant banquet was held in the palace. Nan Xun woke up early to get prepared. Jun Huang lay on the stone table with her eyes on him. She seemed distracted, her eyes caught by his robe.
Nan Xun shook his head in resignation and downed the cup of tea placed on the table. It’d gone cold. “It’s just a meeting attire. Nothing special. They all look the same.”
“I’m just curious what a military official’s meeting attire look like, but it’s the same as a scholar official’s,” Jun Huang said. “Don’t you feel off-kiltered wearing the long robe after wearing armors for so long?”
She was smiling with her whole face. Even the angle of her eyebrows seemed joyful. She hadn’t looked so carefree for a long time.
Nan Xun stared at her dumbly. It took a moment for him to come to his senses. He coughed and looked up at the bright moon. “There was a time when I wasn’t used to wearing armors, but I adapted. Now, I’ve stayed in the imperial city for some time. I can’t just go around without clothes, can I? The long robe doesn’t impose a strong presence, but it’s elegant.”
“I should have worn a general’s attire, but the emperor worried that I’d scare other people. He told me to dress like a scholarly man for once. I can’t see myself though. Do I look less intimidating now?”
Jun Huang considered him carefully, rubbing her chin and supporting her head with the other hand. Nan Xun usually wore shirts with narrow sleeves, which did nothing to dampen his imposing aura. Now, dressed in a long robe with broad sleeves, he did look more like a graceful gentleman. His features were still sharp and steely, but they were softer than before.
“It’s good,” Jun Huang said with a smile. “You’re going to get a lot of attention from women today.”
Nan Xun paused and chuckled. “That’s their business. What do they have to do with me? Don’t worry. I’ll come back for you in no time.”
Jun Huang’s eyelashes fluttered before she looked up at him with a serious expression. She nodded.
A eunuch from the palace came to hurry Nan Xun again. He couldn’t delay his departure anymore. He said a few words to her before leaving with the eunuch.
Jun Huang sat in the garden on her own under the cool moonlight. It was said that the moon festival was when one’s yearning for her parents grew intense. She now saw the truth to the saying. The housekeeper had a servant serve her some moon cakes. She took a bite but didn’t really taste it. She sighed and put it down.
The palace was bustling with activities when Nan Xun arrived. The emperor didn’t blame him for being late, but only waved at him to take a seat. Then the emperor slumped on the throne, his face pale.
Qi Yun had been staying by the emperor’s side. He ordered the servants to bring a robe and some hot tea for his father, painting the perfect picture of a caring son. A few of the participants scoffed in derision, drinking wine without a word.
After three rounds of drinks, some of them were losing their ability to think carefully. One of the courtiers brought up Eastern Wu. The emperor didn’t stop them from talking about the usually taboo topic. He hadn’t had anything to drink because of his health. He let the officials talk in a pleasant mood.
“I hear that the emperor of Eastern Wu has torn the peace treaty with us,” an official suddenly exclaimed.
The mood in the room clouded. Everyone turned to the emperor in silence. The emperor’s face hardened. He slammed the table and got to his feet, pointing at the official who spoke as he demanded, “Where did you hear that from?”
The official was shocked into sobriety. He broke into cold sweat and dropped down to his knees. “Please… please forgive me, Your Majesty. This official heard it from someone else...”
“How dare you say such things to offend His Majesty?” Nan Xun got to his feet and scolded. “Have you lost control of your tongue? How dare you spread hearsay? Do you have a death wish?”
He knelt down before the emperor and said, “The rumor has no basis, Your Majesty. This official hasn’t heard any news. It’s a despicable move to spread false information.”
The emperor froze and spat out a mouthful of blood before collapsing. If Qi Yun hadn’t caught him, he would have make an even bigger scene.
The room fell into chaos. Nan Xun motioned at Qi Yun to take the emperor away. He’d take care of the rest.
Qi Yun knew he couldn’t afford to wait. He nodded and took the emperor back to his chamber with a few men’s help.
The royal doctor arrived quickly. His brows furrowed as he took the emperor’s pulse. Qi Yun anxiously asked, “What’s going on?”
The royal doctor sighed. “Anger caused the poison in His Majesty’s body to act up. He’s in a dangerous state.”
Qi Yun grabbed the doctor by his collar, “You must save Royal Father at all cost. Do you hear me?”
“Yes, yes, I’ll do all I can.” The royal doctor was drenched in sweat. He got on treating the emperor with his fellow doctors.
Qi Yun stayed by the bed for some time. He realized that he still had things to take care of. He first reminded the eunuch serving the emperor to take care of his father and to inform him should something happen. Then he rushed outside.
He went back to the banquet and heard Nan Xun said, “Everyone of you should keep your mouth shut. If the rumors leave the room, I’ll make you regret your life.”
The officials were scared by his harsh words. They nodded without a word of comeback. Prince Duan, though, remained seated with an eyebrow raised. It was as if what happened had nothing to do with him.
Nan Xun ignored him and ordered a few guards to send the officials back, his intimidation was clear in his approach. Once they’d left, Qi Yun walked to his side. They exchanged a look before leaving the palace.
Jun Huang only raised an eyebrow when she heard. Qi Yun turned to her questioningly, “It seems that the gentleman knew about this beforehand.”
She glanced at him. “Of course I didn’t, but it makes sense. Many villainous men have been waiting for Northern Qi to fall into chaos. I don’t know what the one spreading the rumors wants, but we have to be alert.”
“You have a point,” said Nan Xun. “I’ve ordered my men to stay on guard. Anyone leaving and entering the city would go through a checkup first. We’re staying in the dark as well. Let’s see what the perpetrator would do.”
Jun Huang nodded and looked up at the moon without a word. Qi Yun was quiet as well, preoccupied with his thoughts.
The imperial city, however, remained peaceful for some time.
Out of the blue, delegates from Eastern Wu came to Northern Qi with the promised fortunes and beautiful women. They requested an audience with the emperor.
The emperor had escaped death again, but his spirit hadn’t recovered enough to take care of the negotiation. He also didn’t want the delegates to know that he was sick. He thus entrusted Prince Duan to take care of the matter.
Jun Huang was losing her sanity staying in the manor. Nan Xun understood her feelings, but he was too busy lately to keep her company. He could only ordered a big group of servants to stick closely to her and had many shadow guards follow her around.
Jun Huang ran into Princess Wan’er and Zhang Yuan on the street by chance. While she was still hesitating if she should greet them, Zhang Yuan spotted her and greeted her. “Gentleman Feng, here!”
Jun Huang had no choice but to approach them. She cupped her hands before looking up. “It’s said that the princess and her husband are a loving couple. It turns out to be true. I’m happy that the princess is able to find a good man to be with.”
“Gentleman Feng may not know that Wan’er is now pregnant,” Zhang Yuan said with a bashful but proud smile. “She’s going to give birth to my child.”
Jun Huang looked own at Wan’er slightly swollen belly and congratulated them earnestly, “What great news. This gentleman is happy for the princess and the official.”
Wan’er looked up at her, trying to find a trace of regret on her face. This was the person Wan’er used to love. It was a little awkward for her to see Jun Huang. Jun Huang’s open look made her feel a little uncomfortable. She didn’t want to continue this conversation.Previous Chapter Next Chapter